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Woolwich rejects Jigs Hollow resident’s bid for change to firearms bylaw

A Jigs Hollow Road resident’s bid to make a small residential cluster a firearms discharge-free zone failed to make a bang in Woolwich this week. Peter Hoffman’s plan was rejected by councillors meeting Tuesday night.

He had asked for an amendment to the township’s firearms bylaw to include a group of seven homes – from 1475 to 1557 Jigs Hollow Rd. – among the settlements where discharging a gun is not permitted. The area involves some 600 metres of frontage on the east side of the road, bounded by the Canagagigue Creek to the south and the meandering Grand River to the east.

At the suggestion of township clerk Val Hummel, the scope of the area was reduced to exclude properties at the south and north ends of the area proposed by Hoffman. But in the absence of much support from neighbours, some of whom opposed the move, councillors opted to take no action. The properties, however, remain subject to a township-wide directive that hunters require written permission from individual owners to hunt on the private land.

Hoffman argued the changes were needed to increase public safety, protect children walking to a nearby parochial school, and to give the area equal footing with the prohibition offered in other small settlements in the township.

Neighbour David Yaworski, 1475 Jigs Hollow Rd., argued against the proposed changes, stressing that there have been no problems in the area to warrant amending the bylaw.

He dismissed Hoffman’s safety argument, noting the prohibition would encompass such a small area as to have no impact on, for instance, children walking along the roadway. In that vein, Yaworski suggested a better safety measure would be to reduce traffic speed along the gravel roadway.

Having visited the site, Coun. Scott Hahn said he had no concerns about safety, even with an archery range on the other side of the street.

“I’d be very safe walking up and down that road at any time of day. I don’t support any bylaw in that area.”

Suggesting the situation seemed to be something of a “neighbourhood dispute,” Coun. Murray Martin said the township should take no action. “I don’t see a big reason to change anything.”

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  1. Both the reporting here, and especially the accompanying editorial, are good efforts. And this response should not be viewed as attempting to re-open the issue with this particular Council. That just wastes time. I feel satisfied to have pushed it as much as is reasonable.

    As for the urban vs. rural conflict mentioned in the editorial, it should be emphasized that nothing proposed to Council on May 10 would have affected the rights of farmers to shoot pests, and to hunt and permit others during hunting seasons, or affected any other rights on farms.

    Below I’ll mention other aspects of gun discharge bans in our township, and also discuss that Council meeting. In particular it seems worthwhile to bring out some serious gaffes by staff on this which were sure to prejudice against the adoption of the ban. I’ll also to comment on the apparent lack of much effort put into it by Council itself.

    Note in particular that I would take strong exception to the phrase in the article: “… in the absence of much support from neighbours, some of whom opposed the move…” See details below concerning numbers in that respect. Opposed was exactly 1 of the 7 affected residents. Supporting we cannot know for certain, as it was suppressed by Clerk. But it was almost certainly 4 or 5 of the 6 non-opposing residents. Of at least three pieces of evidence for this, the most useful was a written survey taken early on in February. Never, including then, had I engaged in any ‘knock on doors and twist arms’ tactics. But the reporter is probably correctly reporting the incorrect perceptions of Council members, despite my attempts there to make the facts clear to them.

    It is pretty obvious that the article’s phrase: “Suggesting the situation seemed to be something of a ‘neighbourhood dispute,’ Coun. Murray Martin … ” reports a reflection on the honesty of my motives. So I’ve repeated the reasons for the ban proposal below. They were given in the article briefly and I appreciate that. But the Martin quote would normally be interpreted to mean ONLY a dispute. Neither he nor any other Council member, with one minor exception below, made any effort to discuss the reasons below which I gave several times to Council.

    Also, the lack of effort by Council members noted two paragraphs above likely caused the one factual error in the editorial, at the end: as said correctly, Woolwich North does have the ban on weapons’ discharge, in contrast to the Jigs Hollow area. But the two areas are similar in every other aspect—size, isolation from larger settlements etc., and most importantly to get correct: Woolwich North is also NOT one of the township’s official settlement areas (as is clear even just from the wording of the firearms bylaw). See also below on Councillor Bauman’s only comment May 10 on the issue, his dubious remark likely to have caused the editor to think Woolwich North was ‘official’.

    Three weeks earlier at the April 19 meeting, staff essentially announced (incorrectly) that 3 were opposed to the ban, of the properties on Jigs Hollow which would be affected. Except for me, the incorrect number stayed at 3 in the minds of everybody, including especially the decision makers, from April 19 till about 4 hours before the May 10 meeting. At that point staff came up with an entirely new ban suggestion, and ‘admitted’ the (still false) ‘fact’ that the number of these relevant objectors is 2, not 3. But actually 1, not 2 nor the initial 3, was the correct number, as accurate knowledge of who owned what land around there made clear. So to repeat for emphasis, there was only 1 of the 7 residential owners affected who was objecting, and the remaining 6 were either favouring the ban or neutral. Incorrect numbers of 3 and briefly 2 had been given to Council both orally and in writing for the entire period from April 19 or earlier until after the start of the May 10 meeting. That ratio of 6 to 1, of others versus objectors, is the only precise information anyone except Council and a couple of staff could know. I would guess from other information that the number actually supporting it was 4 or 5, out of 6, including me, with 2 or 1 neutral.

    (One would guess a comic novel, except it really happened : Confused farmer receives Woolwich letter saying land affected, and map saying opposite. Only after 2 weeks, confusion lifted by someone else after learning this detail. A few hours later in middle of crucial meeting, Council has no hope of grasping this. Even Council members averaging normal intelligence would be challenged, and newspaper writers as well.)

    So much for staff antics. On to Council members:

    After ‘speeches’ by me and by the opposer, each Councillor, except Chair Merlihan, made a very brief remark, presumably an attempt to justify not being ready to discuss it any further. Note that a delegation has 10 minutes, then has to shut up, being able to question neither statements by a later speaker nor assertions by Councillors.

    Councillor Bauman made a very brief remark (and nothing else), asserting that Jigs Hollow was different from the other tiny residential areas which I mentioned had the ban, in that it is not an official settlement area. But I had made clear at the previous meeting orally, and at least twice in written submission to Council, that no, sorry it spoils your excuse, but Woolwich North is also not ‘official’ and it does have the gun discharge ban, and furthermore you are not ready to remove the ban from them. There are other, at least two, tiny residential areas with the ban, some of which happen to be official settlements.

    Mayor Schantz asked whether a land owner must give permission before someone can operate a weapon on their land. That also had been made plain several times by me earlier to Council. This question showed a lack of understanding that, for residential areas, the feeling of possible vulnerability comes from not their own property; but rather from permission that might be given for gun shooting on a nearby property, shooting by a guest who, shall we say, might get pulled over for drunk driving if they drove instead of gun shooting just then.

    In general with Councillors, there was little attempt to address the three basic reasons I had given several times over the weeks for introducing such a ban in residential areas. These reasons are in the package with the agenda if readers want to read more detail, and briefly are:

    Reason (1): The safety and peace of mind of the residents and their guests.

    Reason (2): The same for people walking, cycling, driving buggies etc along Jigs Hollow. This especially applies to schoolchildren who walk in future years to the parochial school further south on our road. The fact about this particular year, of a vanishly small number of student walkers, was the only attempt by the other speaker to veer from comments about real estate and his personal relations, imaginary and real, and instead try to rebut these clearly given reasons for the proposal. I had suggested a possible compromise which would allow duck hunting along the north bank of the Canagagigue Creek for the few hundred meters from the road to the Grand River. But that was also completely ignored by him and all Council members.

    Reason (3): The requirement of treating the same all residents in similar situations in the township. That’s surely a moral and legal requirement on Council.

    Another Councillor said he had walked up and down the road and felt safe, and his military expertise is surely important. Perhaps the subtlety of decreasing probabilities and increasing safety might be the more important aspect, but at least he was trying to come to grips with real reasons given for the proposal. Perhaps he should walk the road at Woolwich North, imagining that there is no ban there. Doubtless he will feel safe as well, and then presumably come to Council suggesting to no longer ban gun discharges there.

    I assume it wasn’t Sunday, April 10 when he had felt safe walking on Jigs Hollow. On that date, a lethal arrow came across the road from the Waterloo County Bowmen facility just across the road, and embedded itself in the driveway of one of my neighbours. One hopes that the farmer who rents land for that will try to convince them to turn one shooting range around. That range directs arrows within a small angle towards our road from a distance of about 100 meters. Several crossbows are capable of killing a deer from over 150 meters. Their other shooting ranges look fine to me. The incident above was also part of the information I tried to get Council members to read, in order to see that these accidental discharges are less rare than opposers of a ban might say.

    Finally, the emphasis in the editorial on hunting is well placed, given space limitations. However there is clearly shooting that happens many days of the year. And not just crossbows as above, but guns. And that not just at well-regulated places like the Elmira Rod and Gun Club. For reasons mysterious to me, Ottawa has, for guns but not for crossbows, regulations about regular inspections and reports from shooting ranges.

    Peter Hoffman

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